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Husband e-mails PM into a corner

March 15, 2001

Prime Minister Helen Clark will advise her husband not to send e-mails through her office after he was drawn into a political row over the appointment of a friend to review the state drug-funding agency Pharmac.

Helen Clark was furious at accusations in Parliament yesterday that pressure was put on health officials, via her office, to hire Canadian doctor Joel Lexchin, who had been suggested by her husband, Peter Davis.

The Health Funding Authority appointed Dr Lexchin to review Pharmac last July.

But before the appointment was made Dr Davis, a public health expert, sent an e-mail to Helen Clark's senior private secretary asking for his colleague Dr Lexchin's curriculum vitae to be forwarded to health officials.

Dr Davis has known Dr Lexchin, an emergency medicine specialist and expert in pharmaceutical policy, since 1985.

The e-mail was sent on to a senior adviser in Health Minister Annette King's office, then to the Health Funding Authority.

A week later, Dr Davis again e-mailed the Prime Minister's office asking if there had been any "genuine movement" on the appointment, as his colleague was due to return to Canada.

Annette King yesterday defended her leader in Parliament by saying she approached Dr Davis to ask if he could suggest someone appropriate to conduct the review.

"There was absolutely no influence from the Prime Minister or any member of her staff," she said.

But United MP Peter Dunne said the e-mails were proof of "back door" deals through the PM's office.

Helen Clark said her husband was being targeted in an utterly vicious and unprofessional way that she described as a "campaign of harassment."

Asked whether sending the e-mail to her office could have created the wrong impression, she said her husband was an academic who would not have thought of the political consequences.

"I would certainly advise him not to do it again. But I had no knowledge of it at all," she said.

"You have to have eyes in the back of your head for Opposition attacks. I'm very angry about this. My husband has been in contact with health officials about public policy for years and there is just no suggestion of any impropriety."

Helen Clark said her husband had probably sent the CV to her office to be forwarded because he did not have the appropriate e-mail address.

Dr Davis yesterday refused to comment.

"I just want to get on with my job," he said.

Speaking from Canada, Dr Lexchin told the Herald he believed he had been hired to review Pharmac because of his expertise.

"I wouldn't know anything about any pressure or anything like that. Peter Davis was the one who told me that this position was open.

"As far as I know that was all he had to do with it," he said.

"All he did was take the CV and pass it on. I wouldn't classify that as putting me forward."

In an e-mail to the former chairman of the authority, Syd Bradley, on June 24, Dr Lexchin warned the agency to be aware he was friendly with Dr Davis and knew Helen Clark.

"I say this just in case there will be charges that I have been selected because I am a friend of the Prime Minister ... "

Dr Lexchin would not reveal how much he had been paid for the review, but the e-mails show he requested $C500 ($776) a day, plus expenses.

Dr Lexchin met Dr Davis in 1985 when visiting New Zealand.

Several years earlier he had bought a copy of a book written by Dr Davis and wanted to share his writings on a similar topic.

© Copyright 2001, by FRANCESCA MOLD, NZ Herald


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